Student tenants escape injury from Camaraderie fire

For senior Tony Bluske, one of three people sleeping in the apartments above the Camaraderie when it caught fire the morning of Jan. 7., his Sunday morning actually started out on a positive note.

“I don’t know why, but I just woke up at about 9:30 and I felt really good,” Bluske said from his new living quarters, a rented house on Chippewa Street. “I had been having trouble sleeping lately and I was like `this is great, I’m so comfortable.'”

But about an hour later, after Bluske had drifted back to sleep, a loud pounding at a door to his apartment woke him up.

Employees at the Nasty Habit had seen smoke from the fire and were among a contingent that eventually broke down one of the apartment’s doors to make sure its tenants were aware of the fire.

“It was almost like it was a dream because you could tell that they were frantic,” Bluske said.

Within minutes Bluske and his roommates – Eau Claire senior Eric Baumann and Chippewa Valley Technical College student Daryn Bucheger – were standing outside the building, waiting and watching as firefighters began working.

“I got out with my book bag and had my wallet,” said Baumann, who said they were lucky they had slept in their clothes that night.

Two Eau Claire sophomores who lived in another apartment unit above the bar were out of of town. Brian Carter was vacationing in Jamaica at the time and Matt Lilla was at his parents’ home for winter break.

“The fire department got there and we were just like c’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” said Bluske, who added he thought the fire would be put out before spreading throughout the bar and the building. As it became apparent the building and their apartment would be total losses, Baumann and Bluske walked to the Holiday gas station and called their parents.

A trip around the burning building, which was witnessed by several hundred spectators, brought a sense of perspective to the two.

“I wasn’t really thinking about CDs and movies,” Bluske said. “I was just thinking about the little things.”

“I was thinking about the way it’d probably change my life for a while,” Baumann said.

But Baumann pointed out the most important fact to Bluske: They got out of the building unharmed.

“From then on it was just, you know, different,” Bluske said.

After three nights in a hotel, the two moved to their new home, safe and alive.

“We’re actually really lucky,” Baumann said.